What Weibo can teach Twitter about turning an e-commerce buck

July 03, 2014 13:31
Twitter was once Weibo's inspiration but the Chinese platform is now ahead of Twitter in e-commerce. Photo: Bloomberg

Weibo may be a few years younger than Twitter and based on the US microblogging site but the mainland incarnation may have a few things to teach its American cousin about e-commerce income.

Since selling an 18 percent stake to e-commerce titan Alibaba, Weibo has become more aggressive about online shopping.

Weibo teamed up with Alibaba's Alipay in January to launch a third-party payment product called Weibo Payment, allowing the platform's users to buy products via notifications on the site. The service was limited at the start to big clients like Xiaomi, Meizu, and online video sites Xunlei and iQiyi. Now, having tested the system, Weibo is reportedly ready to invite smaller companies to join in.

The big attraction for smaller companies is the lower deposit needed for transactions. Merchants won’t have to pay any deposit if they are prepared to wait 15 days after the transaction has been made (T+15) to settle. Real-time transactions are also available for a 20,000 yuan (US$3,250) deposit.

Twitter, meanwhile, has so far relied on sponsored tweets and advertising for income and is looking for other ways to monetize its large user base. There are some signs that the social platform might soon tap into e-commerce too.

US-based tech news site Re/code reported that several tweets featuring a "Buy Now" button under product images have surfaced briefly on Twitter. The button was first spotted in tweets from the shopping app Fancy but the feature is believed to be in the test phase and has some glitches.

Twitter has worked with e-commerce behemoth Amazon to launch a shopping feature called #AmazonCart. The idea was that after Amazon posted tweets on its latest products, users could reply by typing #AmazonCart into the space, then the product would be added to the user’s shopping cart automatically. But, the service proved to be a nonstarter.

Twitter may still need to fine-tune its system to get its e-commerce platform up and running. Weibo is ahead in the game but it too will have to go through some trial and error to strike a balance between its e-shopping ambitions and its core reality as a communication tool.

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EJ Insight writer